As Pakistan's coach Bob Woolmer was under abnormal stress

The price of passion

Dileep Premachandran in Jamaica

March 18, 2007

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'It's a stressful job at the best of times' © Getty Images
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We were sitting down to lunch after the depressing trip to the University Hospital when a man came by and asked: "Da coach who die? He Pakistan coach now?" When we said yes, he shook his head sadly, dreads blowing in the breeze. 'Maybe he take it to heart?" he said. "Even da biggest team can lose to little team, man. It a game, and da ball round."

As you listened to him, you could only wish that fans back home in India and Pakistan were possessed of such common sense or perspective on life. On waking up in the morning and checking mail, the first thing I had seen was an AFP report from India that spoke of angry mobs attacking a house that Mahendra Singh Dhoni was constructing in Ranchi. The story also went on to speak of armed guards protecting the houses of Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Virender Sehwag and others.

It was as depressing as it was predictable. Even before Bangladesh had scored the 192 runs required to defeat India at Queen's Park Oval, Cricinfo had received feedback from so-called fans who wished to burn Dravid's house. A few hours later, Pakistani "fans" were out in the streets of Multan demanding that Inzamam-ul-Haq and Bob Woolmer be arrested.

In such a climate, it should surprise no one when the pressure proves too much to take. While chatting to Greg Chappell recently, I had asked him if he'd have fancied playing cricket in this day and age and whether he thought the moderns got as much pleasure from the game as his generation had. "I'm sure they enjoy it, but it's more of a job now than it ever was," he said. "And it takes a toll on you, the relentless touring and the hectic schedules."

Chappell knows more than most about the volatile nature of the subcontinent's cricket-watching public. Recently, a deranged fan assaulted him when the team arrived for a match in Cuttack, and though he chose not to make a song and dance of it, it was clear that physical danger was far more than he'd bargained for when he took the job.

Greg Chappell is in no doubt that the stakes are far higher in South Asia than they are elsewhere. "I'd say so. It's definitely more under the spotlight than in other countries. The expectations are far higher. But in the light of this tragic event, I think we need to take pause and make sure that we don't get too stressed about what is after all only a game.

Chappell was understandably subdued when Cricinfo talked to him following Woolmer's sad demise. "It's very sad news," he said, having played against Woolmer in a few Ashes Test in the 1970s. 'It's a stressful job at the best of times. There's a great deal of emotional involvement. You have to be passionate about it if you want to do the job well."

There are many high-profile coaching jobs in sport - the Real Madrid hot-seat in football and the management of the New York Yankees to name just two, but none carries with it quite the pressure of coaching a subcontinental cricket team. Chappell is in no doubt that the stakes are far higher in South Asia than they are elsewhere. "I'd say so. It's definitely more under the spotlight than in other countries.

"The expectations are far higher. But in the light of this tragic event, I think we need to take pause and make sure that we don't get too stressed about what is after all only a game."

Enough said, though the effigy-burners will be too consumed with hatred to understand.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo

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Dileep Premachandran Associate editor Dileep Premachandran gave up the joys of studying thermodynamics and strength of materials with a view to following in the footsteps of his literary heroes. Instead, he wound up at the Free Press Journal in Mumbai, writing on sport and politics before Gentleman gave him a column called Replay. A move to MyIndia.com followed, where he teamed up with Sambit Bal, and he arrived at ESPNCricinfo after having also worked for Cricket Talk and total-cricket.com. Sunil Gavaskar and Greg Chappell were his early cricketing heroes, though attempts to emulate their silken touch had hideous results. He considers himself obscenely fortunate to have watched live the two greatest comebacks in sporting history - India against invincible Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001, and Liverpool's inc-RED-ible resurrection in the 2005 Champions' League final. He lives in Bangalore with his wife, who remains astonishingly tolerant of his sporting obsessions.
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Australia won by 53 runs (D/L method)
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